Rugby legend Sonny Bill Williams will refuse to wear the logo of gambling company Betfred on his jersey when he lines up for the Toronto Wolfpack at the beginning of February.
The two-time Rugby World Cup winner completed a $10 million move to the Wolfpack in November – a record transfer fee for the Betfred Super League, which Wolfpack chairman Bob Hunter compared to “David Beckham signing for the LA Galaxy,” while describing Williams as “rugby’s Lebron James.”
But Williams converted to Islam in 2009, a religion that prohibits gambling, and the Betfred logo is strictly haram, i.e., forbidden.
“We’re in discussions with Super League about this, but Sonny has been very clear in his stance on the matter,” Hunter told Telegraph Sport on Thursday. “I think Betfred will benefit by taking the position that we respect and honor the player’s religious beliefs.
“In today’s society, there are some very sensitive issues, but I think the sponsor can say ‘yes, okay, we understand this. He’s a big brand and big name, but we get it’,” he added.
On Friday, the Super League said it would agree to Williams’s request to cover up the logo on his jersey.
From League to Union and Back
The UK-based Super League is composed of 12 teams, 10 from England, one from France and one — the Wolfpack — from Canada. It is the top level of professional rugby league, a game distinct from rugby union, which has different rules and is the more popular version played worldwide.
Williams’ deal with the Wolfpack marks his return to rugby league, the game he played at the start of his professional career, after finding fame and World Cup glory with rugby union.
While the two games appear very similar to the casual viewer, they use different scoring systems and are distinct in terms of tactics, game management, and playing styles. Union even has two more players per team — 15, to the league’s 13.
Logo ‘No Small Thing’
Williams’ objection to the Betfred logo had been widely predicted by rugby pundits. While playing for the Auckland Blues in 2017, he was permitted to cover-up the logo of a banking sponsor, because Islam also prohibits the charging of interest on loans.
“My objection to wearing clothing that markets banks, alcohol, and gambling companies is central to my religious beliefs,” he said at the time.
“While a logo on a jersey might seem like a small thing to some people, it is important to me that I do the right thing with regards to my faith and hope that people respect that,” Williams added.
Williams is not the first Muslim athlete to take a stand against logos that are forbidden under the principles of Islam.
While playing for Sevilla in Spain’s La Liga, French soccer player Frédéric Kanouté refused to wear the 888.com logo.
In the EPL, Senegalese Newcastle United striker Pappiss Cissé protested against wearing branding for Wonga.com, a payday loans company, because it offended his religious belief. But his position was compromised after he was photographed apparently gambling in a local casino, and he later relented.